A Tivo Bolt is displayed during the 2016 CES trade show in Las Vegas, Nevada January 7, 2016. The $299.00 unified entertainment system combines a cable box, a DVR and a streaming box into one device.
Tivo Bolt  Steve Marcus—Reuters

You Soon Might Be Able to Sidestep One of Cable TV's Biggest Ripoffs

Jan 27, 2016

If you're sick of shelling out money to your cable provider every month for the privilege of renting the set-top box you need to access the TV you're also paying for, help may be on the way. Cable companies aren't expected to let those billions of dollars go without a fight, though.

Federal Communications Commission chairman Tom Wheeler plans to unveil a proposal that would let customers choose from a wide range of set-top boxes beyond what pay TV providers offer, according to the Wall Street Journal. If the proposal becomes reality, it would be a big win for pay TV alternative brands like TiVo and Google's Android TV, not to mention consumers who today overwhelmingly pay monthly fees to rent equipment.

Americans could be overpaying by as much as $14 billion a year for their set-top boxes, consumer advocates say, pointing out that higher prices to rent set-top boxes don't jibe with the falling costs of technology. "The FCC should promote a competitive set-top box market to reduce this financial burden on consumers," the Consumer Federation of America and Public Knowledge said in a joint letter to the agency. The average person pays $7.43 per month per box (which adds up if you have a few TVs in the house), which is an increase of 185% since 1994. Last year, the New York Times' editorial board also argued in favor of more flexibility in consumers' set-top box choices.

Cable companies and satellite providers were expected to announce a coalition to fight the FCC's proposal, the Journal said. They argued that letting competitors into the market could compromise customer privacy. But now that big tech names like Google have broken into the "walled garden" of cable TV, consumer advocates have some corporate clout on their side, too.

Read next: Why Comcast Keeps Insisting its Data Caps Aren't Caps--and That They're Fair

In the meantime, if you're sick of paying through the nose to watch TV, here are some solutions for cutting the cord.

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